Thursday, 12 January 2017


I grew up on a farm - actually the farm where they filmed the Teletubbies some years after I left, by peculiar coincidence. Until the age of eleven we lived in a cottage which came with my dad's job. Heating was provided by a single fire place, warm clothing, and not knowing any better. Everything froze in winter, and when it wasn't frozen it was cold, grey, and damp, with some respite during summer if we were lucky. Eventually we moved to a place with heating, and then I left home for a succession of rural student dwellings warmed, if at all, by portable gas fires. Upon leaving studentry, I took a job with Royal Mail and spent the next twenty-one years walking around in freezing wind and rain, three or four hours a day, six days a week, forty-eight weeks a year. It wasn't all miserable, but a lot of it was. Worst of all would be the Christmas period during which I'd trudge to work before dawn, plod around in the cold and wet for most of the day freezing my bollocks off, sometimes with the snow soaking into my socks, only returning home as it was getting dark. That sort of cold gets right into your bones and not even a hot bath will shift it.

Consequently I grew to hate winter more and more with each passing year. Even towards the close of August I'd already be dreading the clocks changing, the six months of cold and wet beneath a sky of battleship grey, and the sun rising no higher than the roof of the house on the opposite side of the street before sinking towards an appointment with dusk at around 4.30 in the afternoon. I sometimes wondered if I had seasonal affective disorder given the timing, and each October specifically feeling like a rehearsal for the less buoyant chapters of Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea; and yet it isn't like I was deprived of natural daylight because the coldest parts of my job were outside. Just in case, I bought a light bulb advertised as simulating sunlight and recommended for those suffering with the condition, but it didn't seem to make any difference.

Therefore, even without any of the other considerations, when fate tapped me on the shoulder and asked what I thought about living in Texas, it wasn't something requiring much in the way of deliberation. I'd been to Mexico City a few times and it was hot, being some two-thousand miles nearer to the Equator. Further from the Equator but lacking the elevation of Mexico City, Texas turned out to be significantly hotter. In fact it was the hottest place I'd ever been, much hotter than anticipated. Some mornings the act of opening the front door upon a new day seemed much like opening the door to some kind of walk-in pizza oven. It felt as though I had landed on the planet Venus or the sunward side of Mercury. Yet weirdly, the heat seemed so extreme and so unlike anything I had experienced that it seemed endurable because I had no frame of reference. It was nothing like an unbearably hot day of English summer wacked up by a few more degrees. It felt different, and I knew I would get used to it because it was still better than freezing my bollocks off whilst sat on top of a portable gas fire wearing every item of clothing I owned.

Happily I did get used to it and I learned the rules fairly quickly. Outdoor work or travel is easiest early in the day, and definitely no gardening after two in the afternoon. I learned this through suffering heatstroke a couple of times. I felt as though I'd been microwaved, and each occasion knocked me out for a couple of days. Sometimes the heat can be restrictive and a pain in the arse, but that's why we have air conditioning; and even at its worst, when water catches fire as it leaves the tap - or faucet, I suppose - it's still better than being cold.

Of course, certain preconceptions have turned out to be untrue. Money spunked away on heating bills during the English winter don't represent a saving because it all goes on air conditioning during the long Texan summer. Also, I imagined my origin might endow me with certain superpowers under the circumstances in much the same way as Superman found himself at a significant advantage when he first came to Earth. Neighbours would shiver, so I believed, as I stomped down the street in just my t-shirt and pants in the middle of November. 'Haw haw,' I would roar like Brian Blessed, 'you call this winter? Why, in my country...'

Yet just as Texan summer was never anything so simple as the English equivalent notched up a little, neither is our winter simply a milder version of that which I shudder to recall. The days grow shorter, but nothing like so short as back in England, and some of them are at least as warm as an English summer; but then the temperature will fall ten degrees overnight and the next day will be cold, grey, wet, and miserable, and it still catches me out.

I thought I'd be Superman, or at least the one-eyed bloke in the country of the visually impaired, but instead I've acclimatised. The temperature falls to 10°C, a temperature I may once have considered mild, and it feels like I'm back in the land of numb fingers and soaking wet socks on the radiator; and it's somehow unexpected because I'm accustomed to scorching heat so I'm on edge, prone to panic, struggling as I force myself forward through the metaphorical snowdrifts of the day.

The week gets worse as the skies remain without colour. One evening I take the salmon I've just baked from the oven and it slides neatly from the foil to the floor which we share with eight cats. Bess and I eat just the cauliflower cheese I've made to go with the salmon, but deprived of context it seems tasteless.

Next day my bike falls over. I leave it on the kick stand so I can reset the combination on the lock of the gate at the side of the house, but the kickstand sinks into the mud and the bike falls somehow knackering both the rear-view mirror and one of the newly fitted grips on the handlebar. Like weather, Texas mud fails to be a variation on anything familiar. It's like modelling clay, but lighter - actually more like poo if I'm to be honest; and the poo from one of those days when you should never have got out of bed. You occupy the lavatory bowl, allowing the oval of toughened plastic to form an airtight seal around your buttocks, a little push and BRATTT!!!! Somehow it goes everywhere. It's on your socks. It's on the floor. There's a small splodge on the light fitting despite the established laws of physics. This is how mud in Texas behaves when deprived of the sun which would ordinarily bake it hard.

Not only do I knacker my bike but as I'm standing there at the side of the house I realise I'm staring at a backpack discarded amongst the leaves on the ground. I pick it up. It's wet and looks new and I've never seen it before. Someone has been here at the side of the house. Inside the backpack I find painkillers, energy bars, and a set of keys of an unfamiliar type.

I hear Donna, who lives next door, arriving home in her truck, so I go to see if she knows anything about the backpack. She doesn't, but guesses it might be some homeless guy who left it. She's seen a lot of them around the neighbourhood of late, and it rained for three days solid over the weekend. It seems likely that he might have been trying to get into our garage for the sake of shelter.

Now that she suggests this, I recall having seen the gate at the side of the house hanging a little way open. It doesn't close properly, so I customarily lodge a piece of wooden trellis between the side of the gate and the post so as to keep stray dogs from getting in through the gap, and around this I coil a bike lock; but I recall the gate being a little way open with the trellis fallen on the grass, still held mostly closed by the bike lock. Possibly some homeless guy tried to push it open without noticing the lock, then ran away without his backpack, having been startled by something or other. I don't know this for sure and it's a pain in the arse to have to think about it.

I head out on my bike but it's too fucking cold for exercise, so I just go directly to the supermarket and sit eating fried chicken in the caff, which is definitely exercise of a sort. I'm sitting freezing in a supermarket caff eating fried chicken under strip lighting. Across the aisle I can see Finding Dory play silently on a flat screen telly whilst on my headphones I have Happy Mondays singing about having sex on a beach in the Caribbean sun, and for a moment it's like I never left England; or maybe England has followed me.

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